Modern Architects

Explore the history of modern architects.


Born: Los Angeles, California (Buff); Omaha, Nebraska (Hensman)
Education: University of Southern California, 1952 (both)
Best known for: Post-and-beam construction, homes that offered simultaneous openness and privacy, and Case Study House #20. The Case Study Houses, through an Arts & Architecture magazine program, were intended to foster the creation of modern, easily constructed and affordable housing prototypes. Long after the program ended, Buff & Hensman continued to build homes along the same guiding principles.


Conrad Buff III and Donald Hensman are the epitome of two being greater than the sum of their parts. Buff’s fine artistry and craftsman aesthetic harmonized with Hensman’s simplicity and precision in an enduring collaboration. The pair later welcomed their former USC professor, Calvin Straub, into the partnership for five years to avoid competing with him.


As savvy young undergrads, the two designed thousands of tract homes for a prominent developer. Upon opening their firm, they gained ground in the architectural community for their creative use of challenging sites and a mastery of designing homes that were intensely private yet relaxed and open.


Julius Shulman photographed many early projects in their favored post-and-beam style. The photographer’s connections and endless flow of assignments helped promote Buff & Hensman and modernism at large. Just six years out of USC, their Case Study Home #20 received untold global attention through the pages of Art & Architecture magazine and the resulting publicity. Overnight, Buff & Hensman went from a well-respected firm to the stars of modern architecture.


In the productive decades that followed, their work evolved, particularly when California’s 1970s building code required it. Casual post-war homes that opened from wood frames and glass panels into the sunny outdoors led to more complex studies in space, mass, light, and shadow. The pair stayed true to their roots: detailed workmanship, quality materials, and clever site orientation so lots lived large, despite their size.


Buff & Hensman collected more than 40 A.I.A. awards while designing artistically proportioned homes across Southern California, including celebrity estates and a concentration of lookers in Pasadena’s Poppy Peak Historic District.


The firm still practices after four incarnations across more than six decades: Buff & Hensman (1952-57); Buff, Straub & Hensman (1958-63); Buff & Hensman & Associates (1964-88), and Buff, Smith & Hensman (1988-present).


Other Notable Properties:


Born: Shanghai, China
Education: University of Southern California, 1949
Best known for: Butterfly roofs, the three-level House of Tomorrow with curving rooms and a glass pavilion front, and an unusual gift for merging quality and creativity with almost unthinkable quantity. His designs converge on midcentury modern neighborhoods where tract homes enjoy custom characteristics and a plenty of attention from buyers.


To own a Palm Springs home designed by William Krisel is an honor and a pleasure, but not a miracle. Throughout the heyday of affordable vacation homes in the 1950s and ’60s, Krisel was an architectural powerhouse. Along with partner Dan Palmer (of Palmer & Krisel) he designed not only homes but entire neighborhoods built by prominent developers like the Alexander Construction Company. Some have credited Krisel’s work for almost doubling the city’s population with the influx of people drawn to his sleek abodes that inspired a poolside living. Thanks to lead designer Krisel’s open floor plans, abundant glass, clerestory windows, and inspired rooflines, one would be hard-pressed to find someone before or since who has brought such modernism within reach of the masses.


After the firm worked with the Alexander Construction Company to design a profitable modern tract in L.A., the collaboration continued off South Palm Canyon Drive. The boxy Ocotillo Lodge sprang up in 1956, attracting potential homeowners to a new development behind it. In Twin Palms, Krisel rotated the floor plans, varied the facades, and alternated rooflines. This successful formula led to the design of more than 2,000 Alexander homes by Krisel, filling out complete areas with modernist sensibility.


In Krisel’s Las Palmas Estates neighborhood the House of Tomorrow, originally conceived as an experiment in modern living, so impressed the Alexanders that they moved in and called it home. Elvis and Priscilla Presley spent their honeymoon there in 1967.


From a childhood in China to Beverly Hills High to USC, Krisel proved adaptable. He had been a licensed landscape architect since 1954 and left a profound legacy in the design of more than 30,000 modern living units across Southern California.


Years after earning his star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2009 for the magnitude of his 51-year career, Krisel was partnering in the restoration of his homes. He was a living legend with a voice of truth.


“Yet, on this 75th anniversary of the city,” Krisel told Palm Springs Life for a 2013 story, “I would like to say that Palm Springs should be very proud that it is known as the capital of the world for midcentury modern architecture, and it is the one city in America that really protects that design, advocates that design, and is proud of that design. I think if it wasn’t maintained, restored, and appreciated the way it is here in Palm Springs, it would be a bygone event, and you wouldn’t see it anywhere in the world. So I give the city and the people who live here full credit for the fact that midcentury modern is still appreciated.”


A film on his life and contributions, William Krisel, Architect, premiered during Modernism Week 2010.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Ocotillo Lodge, 1956
  • Smoke Tree Valley Estates (Twin Palms), 1957
  • Valley of the Sun Estates in Rancho Mirage, 1957
  • Las Palmas Estates (Vista Las Palmas), 1958
  • Racquet Club Estates, 1958
  • Sandpiper Condominiums in Palm Desert, 1958
  • “House of Tomorrow” (Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway), 1960
  • Canyon View Estates, 1962
  • Kings Point, 1968


Born: Los Angeles, California
Education: University of Southern California, 1941
Best known for: A long career with Albert Frey, first with John Porter Clark as a trio and then with only Frey. Outside the area, Chambers’ credits range from the Salton Sea’s nautically inspired North Shore Yacht Club to St. Michael’s-by-the-Sea Church in Carlsbad. Its angled roofline that rises into a peak bears similarity to a more iconic Chambers’ project, the Tramway Gas Station. Constructed of rose beige concrete block, the church was a modern departure in its genre, complete with exposed ceiling beams made of Douglas fir, a triangular bell tower, and no square corners for acoustical reasons.


Before arriving in the desert, Robson Chambers worked for five years at an architectural firm in L.A. and, as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, helped design Camp Pendleton in Oceanside.


His Palm Springs story began in 1946 with a seat in the busy office of John Porter Clark and Albert Frey, which had been producing early modernism for a decade. The firm’s innovation continued with Chambers on board, and he was made partner of Clark, Frey & Chambers in 1952. The firm completed Palm Springs City Hall during this era, a massive five-year undertaking in collaboration with Williams, Williams & Williams that was completed in 1957. By this time, Clark had left the firm to focus on non-residential work in private practice. Chambers stayed with Frey for another decade, during which they designed a second residence for Raymond Cree and Frey House II.


Chambers moved to Santa Barbara in 1966 to become campus architect for the University of California, Santa Barbara until 1980. His next move to Borrego Springs led him to maintain a small private practice through which he designed a number of local residences and the St. Barnabas Episcopal Church (1986). The year before his passing, Chambers returned to Santa Barbara to donate many of his drawings to UCSB’s Architectural Drawing Collection.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Chambers’ personal residence, 1947
  • Palm Springs City Hall, 1957
  • Salton Sea’s North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, 1959
  • St. Michael’s-by-the-Sea Church in Carlsbad, 1959
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, 1963
  • Tramway Gas Station, 1964

Born in: Marquette, Michigan
Education: Northern Michigan University, 1933
Best known for: Residences where organic forms walk the line between those seen in nature and the Atomic Age architecture to which he contributed. One example is his flying saucer-shaped 1960 Chemosphere atop a 29-foot-high, 5-foot-wide column offering a bird’s-eye view of Los Angeles. The landmark property, called “the most modern house in the world” by Encyclopedia Britannica, had its own funicular.


Lautner’s design for Googie’s coffee shop on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood inadvertently conceived the cheerful Googie style of post-war America, where space-age futurism meets lively modern angles, enticing drivers into restaurants, gas stations, and car washes.


Lautner grew up in a family that understood and appreciated art and architecture. His mother was an interior designer and painter, and his father a professor who taught French, German and philosophy. Lautner’s boyhood home was featured in The American Architect magazine, but he drew lifelong inspiration from their summer cabin. It sat among boulders on a rocky stretch overlooking Lake Superior. He spent three summers as a boy helping his family built it by hand.


He was an early apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright in the mid-1930s. In 1938, he reluctantly but confidently broke away from the mentor he called a “genius” to open his own practice (though Wright would call him back to help with problem projects). Lautner’s own multi-level hillside home, built the next year as his first big solo debut, appeared in House Beautiful.


Lautner’s work, primarily in Southern California, has been studied just as Wright’s has. Residential structures make up the bulk of his portfolio, in addition to restaurants, apartment buildings, and offices. For more than 55 years, building codes and contractors’ input were secondary to “designing for people,” as he called it: creating stunning buildings that provide a unique solution for each client and each site.


In Desert Hot Springs, The Lautner Compound is an luxurious vacation rental property built around a four-unit prototype Lautner designed in 1947 for a master planned community that never came to fruition.
Lautner is the subject of two films, most recently the 2008 documentary Infinite Space: The Architecture of John Lautner, which describes his work as “surprising, sexy, fearless, joyous, and timeless,” adding that “concrete was his muse.”


Other Notable Properties:

  • Desert Hot Springs Community (The Lautner), 1947
  • Googie’s coffee shop in L.A., 1949
  • Chemosphere House in L.A., 1960
  • Sheats-Goldstein Residence in L.A., 1963
  • Elrod House, 1968
  • Arango House in Acapulco, 1973
  • Bob Hope Residence, 1980

Born: Fort Dodge, Iowa
Education: Cornell University, 1928
Best known for: Partnering with celebrity-status architects like Albert Frey as well as his experience with established architects of Pasadena, where Clark moved with his parents as a teenager. After Clark headed to Palm Springs to open a satellite office for Pasadena firm Van Pelt and Lind, he met with Albert Frey in 1935. The rest is architectural history.


John Porter Clark and his 60-year career left a wide swath of important projects, from the coveted ranch-style houses of Smoke Tree Ranch to the low, flat-plane rooflines of Palm Springs City Hall and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station that make a powerful statement without disrupting the views.


He worked independently and in collaboration with talented partners of the day in several configurations of prominent architectural firms. His first and long-time partner, Albert Frey, became a lifelong friend. Robson Chambers and E. Stewart Williams were among other partners. The creative yin and yang of working at times as sole proprietor and at other times in tandem with fellow brilliant minds made Clark’s body of work a rich and full-bodied one.


Clark’s residential, commercial, and institutional structures — most in a modern vein — included libraries, hospitals, churches, and civic buildings. Private estates that still attract attention include William Holden’s (a stunning masterpiece of pivoting glass walls under a flat, cantilevering roof) and Clark’s own, set atop steel stilts where it could shine as an early example of International Style meets desert modernism, built in 1939.


When Clark retired in 1990, he hadn’t cataloged his drawings or even listed his projects. Only his partnerships with esteemed colleagues help us piece together his certain legacy.


Other Notable Properties:

  • San Jacinto Hotel (Movie Colony Hotel), 1935
  • Wright Ludington House in Rancho Mirage, 1937
  • Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 1939
  • Welwood Memorial Library, 1940
  • Hamrick House, 1941
  • St. Paul’s in the Desert, 1946
  • Desert Hospital, 1951
  • William Holden Residence, 1956
  • Palm Springs City Hall, 1957
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, 1963

Born in: Vienna, Austria
Education: Vienna Institute of Technology, Vienna, Austria
Best known for: Detailed questionnaires to discover clients’ needs, tremendously geometric but open and airy structures that deliver serenity through order, and the Kaufmann House. Department store magnate Edward Kaufmann chose Neutra for the project by over his former employer, Frank Lloyd Wright, who had designed Fallingwater for Kaufmann in Pennsylvania. The glass-steel-and-stone landmark received a five-year restoration by Marmol Radziner.


Two iconic photographs that say “Palm Springs” to people across the globe depict Richard Neutra’s 1946 Kaufmann House. The first is Julius Shulman’s black-and-white photo of the illuminated estate at twilight. The second is Slim Aarons’ Poolside Gossip, featuring two vibrant bathing beauties upstaged by Neutra’s dazzling architectural backdrop. The home and its site orientation that employs the pool for balance still feel ahead of its time — and timeless in their ability to capture the Palm Springs dream.


Yet Austrian-born Neutra was neither a cliché nor a one-trick-pony. His breadth of work encompassed Southern Californian churches, schools, substantial commercial and institutional buildings, structures embodying the International Style, and a U.S. embassy in Karachi, Pakistan. A California military academy and villas in Switzerland, Germany, and France are also Neutra designs.


Fifteen years before he designed the Kaufmann House, Neutra tried to move to the Soviet Union to help with the housing shortage by designing easily constructed workers’ housing. Like many midcentury modern architects, he took a roundabout path to finding Southern California, then stayed and worked prolifically once he did. After earning a degree in Vienna, serving as a lieutenant in the Balkans, working with a landscape architect in Switzerland, as a city architect in a small German town, and at an architectural firm in Berlin, Neutra’s career crossed the pond.


Having studied under early modernist luminaries Adolf Loos and Otto Wagner in Austria, he began working in L.A. in 1925, including briefly for Frank Lloyd Wright. He partnered with Robert E. Alexander from 1949-1958 then formed his last partnership with his middle son, Dion. (With Dion eventually at the helm, the firm celebrated its 90th year in 2016.)


Other Notable Properties:

  • Miller House, 1937
  • Kaufmann House, 1946
  • Maslon House (demolished), 1962


Born: Dayton, Ohio
Education: University of Southern California, 1942
Best known for: Simplified but dynamic architecture, particularly at desert hotels and country clubs. It began with his renovation of the hacienda cottages of the legendary Desert Inn in 1945. Soon after, he picked up an A.I.A. award for the Del Marcos Hotel, his first independent commission in Palm Springs. Cody’s sophisticated conversion of Thunderbird Dude Ranch to Thunderbird Country Club led to commissions for clubhouses valley-wide, including Tamarisk, Eldorado, Seven Lakes, and seven others.


One of the most dynamic architects working among the desert modernists, William Cody shaped a distinctive career that experienced its own evolution outside the modern realm. During college, Cody worked for architect Cliff May (“father of the California ranch home”) before embarking on an architectural journey that transcended any one specific style.


From early projects working in colonial and hacienda styles to his 1947 Del Marcos Hotel with its almost Googie-esque, Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired architecture to the L’Horizon hotel a few years later, all low-slung bungalows, it was never Cody’s mission to blend in. Later dubbed a “modern sophisticate,” he pushed midcentury norms. His beams were skinner, his rooflines were thinner, each dipping lower than the next. In the 1970s, he returned full-circle to his roots, fusing traditional Spanish hacienda with modern principles as seen at Tamarisk Country Club and private residences.


Gregarious yet polished, Cody earned the respect of his wide social network that trusted his intuition and admired his experimentation. When Cody envisioned drama, he had the technical skills to execute it.


One of his last projects was St. Theresa’s Catholic Church where he had been a parishioner. Though it wears the austere look of an elegant concrete pagoda, the church incorporates modernist elements including post-and-beam construction and clerestory windows. Cody always had a knack for melding styles and shunning the expected.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Del Marcos Hotel, 1947
  • L’Horizon Hotel, 1952
  • Spa Bath House and Spa Hotel
  • Abernathy Residence, 1962
  • St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, 1968
  • Palm Springs Public Library, 1975


Born: Zürich, Switzerland
Education: Institute of Technology in Winterthur, Switzerland, 1924
Best known for: Provocative lines, minimalist concepts, architectural connections to nature, and being a “founder of desert modernism” (and possibly, Palm Springs’ first full-time resident architect). Frey integrated raw elements of the desert, such as hillside rock and boulders, into modern designs of corrugated aluminum, steel, and glass. His Frey House II (which sat at the highest elevation of any home in town when it was built — now part of the Palm Springs Art Museum) and Cree House II for Raymond Cree are unmistakable examples.


With a name synonymous with Palm Springs, Albert Frey is inseparable from the desert’s modernist landscape and the awe it inspires. Since 1964, the soaring crest of the Tramway Gas Station (now Palm Springs Visitors Center) has served as both an iconic welcome sign and a beacon of modern design to every car that turns off Interstate 10 to enter town.


Frey found the desert by way of Switzerland, Belgium, and Paris, where he was one of two full-time employees at the atelier of International Style architect Le Corbusier. Next stop New York to work ip with A. Lawrence Kocher, designing a handful of buildings, including the Aluminaire House in 1931. This futuristic demonstration piece — the first all-metal prefab house in the United States — was relocated to Palm Springs in 2017.


In 1934, Frey landed in Palm Springs to work on the Kocher-Samson Building, a mixed-use structure for his partner’s brother that some deem the first modern building constructed here. Unlike any other environment, the desert stirred him. He hiked the hills, practiced yoga, drove a convertible, and discovered how to use the climate and its terrain for architectural advantage and impact during a post-war boom. Frey settled permanently in his modernist utopia in 1939 and let the desert inform his captivating architecture. It was his home for almost 60 years.


A partnership that began with John Porter Clark, added Robson Chambers, then lost Clark, never broke Frey’s stride. He designed more than 200 residential, commercial, institutional and civic buildings during his long, productive career, concentrated in the 1940s-1960s.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Aluminaire House, 1931
  • San Jacinto Hotel (Movie Colony Hotel), 1935
  • Raymond Loewy House, 1947
  • Fire Station No. 1, 1955
  • Cree House II, 1955
  • Palm Springs City Hall, 1957
  • Salton Sea’s North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, 1959
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, 1963
  • Tramway Gas Station, 1964
  • Frey House II, 1964


Born in: Dayton, Ohio
Education: Cornell University, 1932; University of Pennsylvania, 1933
Best known for: Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate, stunning bank buildings that anchor the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, and giving Palm Springs a decisively modernist feel with visually arresting landmarks that have been savored for more than 70 years.


If you’re in Palm Springs long enough, you’ll hear the story of Frank Sinatra and the home he asked E. Stewart Williams to build for him — in time for Christmas 1947. Legend has it that Sinatra walked in the architect’s office on a spring day, ice cream cone in hand, and asked for a brick-and-columns Georgian mansion. In the desert. Though it was to be Stewart’s first residential commission, he eschewed the concept but accepted the commission. He and the crooner eventually agreed on a modern home with floor-to-ceiling glass, a covered walkway, and a piano-shaped pool we know as Twin Palms Estate.


With the confidence of an architect’s son and the assuredness of someone who had earned a master’s degree in the midst of the Great Depression, Stewart never swayed from his architectural instincts. Before moving to Palm Springs, he taught at Columbia University for several years, worked in the office of Raymond Loewy, and traveled extensively to see great buildings designed by those he admired (J.J.P. Oud, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Erich Mendelsohn). His father, Harry, had designed La Plaza Shopping Center and, in 1946, Williams joined his father and brother’s local architecture firm as Williams, Williams & Williams.


The southern stretch of downtown Palm Springs is home to several of his imaginative, larger-than-life designs. Hulking masterpieces of midcentury clean lines, they are pieces of history in glass and steel. The Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion resides in the former Santa Fe Federal Savings and Loan building, a classic International-style structure designed by Williams in 1961, clad in unmistakable aluminum screens.


His residential works for private clients are equally impressive. Large, inviting rooms are a flowing interplay of boxes. Stone chimneys pop up through flat plane roofs that extend far past the glass walls below, creating strategic shade inside and out.


Williams stepped out of retirement to complete one last important project: a major expansion of the museum known as the Steve Chase Addition. He began designing in 1990; it was completed in 1996, when Williams was 87 years old.


Palm Springs preservationists passionate about Williams work have submitted and seen many of his designs earn protected Class I historic site status. He received a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Starts in 2008. The 2014 documentary The Nature of Modernism: E. Stewart Williams, Architect celebrates his life, viewpoints, and timeless style. “It becomes art only when it touches the human spirit,” he says in the film. “To achieve that moment is why I became an architect.”


Other Notable Properties:

  • Frank Sinatra Twin Palms Estate, 1947
  • Oasis Office Building, 1952
  • Edris House, 1954
  • Coachella Savings and Loan I and II, 1955 and 1961
  • Kenaston Residence in Rancho Mirage, 1957
  • Santa Fe Savings and Loan, 1961
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Upper Mountain Station, 1963
  • Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, 1972
  • Palm Springs Desert Museum (Palm Springs Art Museum), 1976
  • Palm Springs Art Museum Steve Chase Addition, 1996


Born: Kansas City, Missouri
Education: University of Washington, 1936
Best known for: Partnering with Joseph Eichler beginning in 1950 in a relationship that let Quincy dabble in his concepts for greenbelts and green design. His park-like common areas in tract housing developments were among the nation’s first.


In 1966, Archibald Quincy Jones (who went by “Quincy”) completed a 32,000-square-foot midcentury modern residence for Walter and Leonore Annenberg on 200 acres in Rancho Mirage. The historic Sunnylands estate fulfilled their expectations for a Jones-style “statement roof” and a design that integrated the home into the landscape. Its exposed architecture that incorporates trellises, steel beams, and coffered ceilings receives thousands of admirers each year.


Many know him for his multi-million-dollar, celebrity-style estates in Los Angeles. (Gary Cooper was a client; later owners include Jennifer Anniston.) But Jones had equal passion for elevating design standards for post-war, middle-income families. His tract home designs encouraged the fresh notion of indoor-outdoor living. In many, he introduced a usable atrium, high ceilings, and walls of glass within a modern post-and-beam framework.


Regardless of status, anyone who has enjoyed a Quincy Jones roof overhead has him to thank for an open, expansive interior oriented to the outdoors (which colleagues said he designed from the inside out). During 42 years in practice, he completed more than 5,000 built projects.


Jones got his start in 1937 working for Paul R. Williams, with whom he would later partner on several Palm Springs projects. After a three-year hiatus to serve in the Navy, he returned to L.A. and opened his own office. Open-minded and focused on building for “better living,” Jones made communal green spaces, varied home models, sustainable building methods, and non-grid site planning his trademarks.


In 1947, Jones and Williams reimagined the Tennis Club in Palm Springs, redressing and reconfiguring it from its traditional Italian monastery style to a California modern club complex that harnessed the mountainside’s natural beauty. Two other desert projects followed for the pair.


Jones was a professor and later dean the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California from 1951 to 1967. During his tenure, he designed university campus buildings and large office buildings.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Tennis Club, 1946
  • Town & Country Center, 1947
  • Romanoffs on the Rocks restaurant, 1950
  • Jerome J. Robinson House, 1957
  • Sunnylands, 1966


Born: Los Angeles, California
Education: Los Angeles School of Art and Design; Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier; University of Southern California
Best known for: Designing more than 2,000 private L.A. homes (some for celebrities) in an almost theatrical array of styles. Paul R. Williams battled prejudice throughout his career while making quite a name and a following for himself. Williams was the first certified African-American architect west of the Mississippi, and became the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1923.


From the 1920s until he retired in 1973, Williams was known as an outstanding draftsman with a prolific career. His designs for public and private buildings took shape in Paris and Columbia, New York, Washington, D.C., Les Vegas, Reno, and Memphis. However, Los Angeles was his home base, where he made his impression in some of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods.


Williams served on the first Los Angeles Planning Commission in 1920, became a certified architect in 1921, and opened his own office a few years later at age 28. Dotting the Hollywood Hills and surrounding areas, are some off the 2,000+ home Williams designed for clients including Frank Sinatra, Lucille Ball, Bert Lahr and early screen legends Tyrone Power Lon Chaney, Barbara Stanwyck, and Charles Correll. Elegant period-revival homes through modern eyes became his signature, as Williams created modern interpretations of Tudor-revival, French Chateau, Regency, and Mediterranean.


Williams was one of the many midcentury architects whose career was affected by World War II. During the war he worked as an architect for the Navy.


His four high-profile projects in the post-war desert were all commercial. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Williams worked with his former employee A. Quincy Jones to complete a modern remodel of the burgeoning Tennis Club, as well as partnering on the Town & Country Center and Romanoffs on the Rocks, a restaurant where gangsters rubbed elbows with high society. Williams also completed a full modernization of El Mirador Hotel while restoring its early glamor. Unveiled in 1952, the 1920s icon reopened to celebrity fanfare.


In 1939, Williams received the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Beverly Hills. In 2017, he was posthumously honored with the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Gold Medal for his pioneering career.


Other Notable Properties:

  • Tennis Club, 1946
  • Town & Country Center, 1947
  • Romanoffs on the Rocks restaurant, 1950
  • El Mirador Hotel renovation, 1952


Born: Detroit, Michigan
Education: Lawrence Institute of Technology
Best known for: Two Southridge houses, one purchased by actor Steve McQueen, the other designed for William Holden. The former had been designed for another client; McQueen fell for its floor-to-ceiling glass, floating staircase, wide balconies, and gated hilltop locale. Holden hopped from his Deepwell pad to a low-slung but voluminous five-bedroom estate he commissioned Hugh Kaptur to design.


A formidable scatter of more than 200 residential and 40-plus commercial projects across the Coachella Valley sums up Kaptur’s desert architecture career. Though a contemporary of William Cody, Don Wexler, William Krisel, and E. Stewart Williams, Kaptur has named Frank Lloyd Wright as a major influence.


He sampled from the midcentury modern era’s work and built upon it with his own softer, warmer take on “desert style.” Thick walls, deeply inset windows, and wide overhangs to block the sun and its heat were residential trademarks for Kaptur’s work that borrow from Southwest and Spanish aesthetics.


After serving in the Marines, Kaptur returned to native Detroit to work in General Motors’ styling division. A trip to California put a sharp angle in the course of his life and career: He never returned to the Midwest. Rather, he settled in Palm Springs in 1956, apprenticed in the offices of Wexler and Harrison, made artist’s renderings for Donald Wexler and Albert Frey, and secured connections that set him on 60-year course of both partnered (Robert Ricciardi, Larry Lapham, James Cioffi) and independent work. Kaptur designed many private homes along with hotels, office buildings, apartment complexes, fire stations, and the Palm Springs Golf Course Clubhouse (now Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort) on Golf Club Drive.


Kaptur is the last of the midcentury architects living in Palm Springs. Having received a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars in 2014, he was honored during Modernism Week and was the subject of the film Quiet Elegance the same year. Two years later, he saw the completion of three Little Tuscany homes he designed called “Kaptur Court.”


Other Notable Properties:

  • Impala Lodge (The Triangle Inn), 1958
  • Siva House, 1959
  • Steve McQueen Residence in Southridge, 1964
  • Palm Springs Fire Station #3
  • Palm Springs Fire Station #4
  • Casa Blanca Hotel/Musicland Hotel
  • Palm Springs Golf Course Clubhouse (Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort), 1967
  • William Holden Residence in Southridge, 1977
  • Tahquitz Plaza, 1977


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